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Desperately Needs Orders

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"What do I do? I don't have my instructions!"
Emmet, The LEGO Movie

As any leader will tell you, the ability to follow orders to the letter and without much hesitation or questions is a vital and valued trait of a good follower. But there are some who are so dependent on being given orders that they completely lack any kind of initiative, and won't have the slightest idea of what to do without commands to follow. They will constantly ask their leaders to use as much detail in their orders as possible, and even pester them for new orders immediately after carrying out the old ones.


In more extreme examples, this character will completely fall apart if they aren't given instructions on a regular basis.

This character can sometimes be Dumb Muscle, an Extreme Doormat, or even a Lazy Bum. A member of a Slave Race may also have this mentality.

See also Happiness in Slavery, Blind Obedience, Just Following Orders and Not Used to Freedom. Compare with Creature of Habit, i.e "Desperately Needs Routine". Compare with Decapitated Army, in which an entire army will fall apart without their leader, and My Master, Right or Wrong, where the subordinate will blindly follow all orders given by their leader, regardless of morality. Compare also with Unfulfilled Purpose Misery, where a character needs to do their job, lest they become totally miserable, Freedom from Choice, where someone actually wants someone else to make all the decisions for them, and The Ditherer, who can't make any decisions at all.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Kanao Tsuyuri from Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba was mistreated by her Abusive Parents, who later sold her as a slave at a young age. The trauma from their abuse turned her into an Emotionless Girl, and even after she was rescued by the Kocho sisters, she never did anything unless she was ordered to. To circumvent it a bit, she was given a coin so she could decide what to do with a flip. Her later Character Development centers around her learning to do things of her own free will and relying less on her coin.
  • One Villain Of The Week in the anime version of Fist of the North Star was a thug who relied on a fighting style that worked in tandem with three minions. When Kenshiro immobilized the leader, the minions stopped for a few seconds, causing Kenshiro to note that they rely on their leader to fight. That being said, they did try to keep fighting, but promptly lost anyway.
  • The titular Violet Evergarden was a former Wild Child turned Child Soldier by Major Gilbert Bougainvillea. When after she gain prosthetic arms when the war ended, her first concern is write to the Major asking what her new orders are. When Gilbert's friend, Claudia Hodgins attempts to have Violet rehabiliated by having her adopted, Violet flips out. She goes to him, begging to know where the Major is and if he had new orders for her.
  • Boris Ivanov of Yomi in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple is a Child Soldier for whom orders from his superiors and rules are absolute, even more than honoring a challenge, and thus he usually won't act unless he's ordered to. After he loses to Kenichi and his master dismisses him as his disciple and tells him to not seek him out, he employs Loophole Abuse and Exact Words to interpret his orders so as to justify what he wants to do.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: The victims Hypnota sells to Eviless to be sold as slaves in the Saturn Empire have had their minds altered so that while they're not happy as slaves (as this would raise suspicion in their owners) they are terrified of the idea of not having a master order them about and comply with orders without complaint.

    Film - Animation 
  • In The LEGO Movie, Emmet (and the other citizens of Bricksburg) can only follow the instructions as given by Lord Business. Whenever Emmet is confronted with a problem, he wonders where/what the instructions are.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas. Zig-zagged with the Mayor of Halloweentown. While he can make some decisions on his own (e.g. seeking out Jack), he can't decide about next year's plans without help from Jack Skellington, and becomes panicky when he can't find him.
    Mayor: Jack? I've got the plans for next Halloween. I need to go over them with you so we can get started. Jack, please, I'm only an elected official here, I can't make decisions by myself.

    Film - Live Action 
  • This is quite literal in Battleship. Shortly after the acting commanding officer is killed by the aliens, the Seaman starts freaking out, yelling that he needs an order and begging to be given one.
  • In Jungle 2 Jungle, Tim Allen has a business partner played by Martin Short who is incapable of completing a deal without getting confirmation from Allen.
    Allen: I asked you - I TOLD you to sell it at 97 1/2 and can't do it because I didn't say "Confirm"? You're an idiot!
    Short: Look... for fifteen years, Michael, you say "sell", I say "confirm". "Sell", "confirm", "sell", "confirm". You confirm, and I sell. You DIDN'T confirm so I didn't sell!"
  • At the end of Mean Girls, the Plastics dissolve, but Gretchen can't function without an Alpha Bitch to defer to, so she joins the Cool Asians and starts kissing up to their leader instead.
  • Red in The Shawshank Redemption becomes this after being released from prison after serving a decades-long term; in prison, his life was so regimented that he couldn't even go to the bathroom without asking permission, so now on the outside he finds it difficult to cope with such a free lifestyle.
  • In Star Trek: Generations, John Harriman, the newbie captain of the Enterprise-B, is woefully unprepared to deal with the opening rescue of the El-Aurian ships from the Nexus, so he quickly decides to let the officially retired James T. Kirk take command.

  • In the Discworld novel Sourcery, the all-powerful Sourcerer Coin is eventually revealed to suffer from this problem. Having been groomed to follow the instructions of his abusive father Ipslore, the poor kid has no idea what to do even after he rebels, and the fact that his innate power makes him unimaginably dangerous to the Disc doesn't help his indecisiveness. In the end, he resorts to begging the Librarian for orders on what to do with his life. The Librarian instructs him to follow the path of all the other Sourcerers before him and leave the Disc for a world of his own creation.
  • Harry Potter: House Elves are by nature driven by the need to serve, to the point where they consider being dismissed from their position to be the worst fate imaginable. They possess a powerful magic of their own, but cannot use it without their master's permission.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Black Mirror: In the episode "White Christmas", a digital program called "cookies" are used as servants that serve menial tasks for private owners, such as cleaning. The problem is that cookies are Brain Uploads of real people, with all of their memories and personalities, which means that they need to be mentally broken so that they will happily accept orders. This is accomplished by programming them in an empty, featureless room and then speeding up time so that they grow so restless and agitated that they will crave having something to do. This can also be used as a determent or punishment, as it's possible to speed up time in the program so that minutes pass as slowly as millennia.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Zig-zagged in the revival series' episode "Dalek". The Dalek soldier, upon learning that it is supposedly the last of its kind, has a Villainous Breakdown, screeching that it needs orders. However, it soon decides to fall back on its species' go-to mission of exterminating all life on the planet.
    • In the episode "The Impossible Planet", the Doctor and Rose meet the Ood, a slave race who apparently pine away and die without orders. It isn't until much later, in the episode "Planet of the Ood", that the Doctor and Donna find out that that's only the case for the lobotomised Ood, and the rest of the race are trying to rebel.
  • Red Dwarf: The service mechanoid Kryten was literally built to serve. After being rescued from a crashed ship in his debut episode, he wanders around Red Dwarf, not knowing what to do with himself. Rimmer takes advantage of this by giving Kryten a Long List of chores. A big part of Kryten's Character Development is learning how to think for himself, and act without being told to do so.

    Video Games 
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert: A major weakness of the Tanya unit when used by the player. While most of the combat units in the game will automatically react to the presence of an enemy unit by attacking and maneuvering around it, Tanya will simply stand still and let herself be killed unless given an order to attack. Presumably this is meant to offset the fact that Tanya can actively snipe enemy units from well outside their own range of fire as well as sabotage buildings to the point of ruin. Were a group of such able to be used automatically, they'd seriously overpower anything in the game.
  • Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness: The Krichevskoy Group's champion, Barbara, was conditioned for her entire life to follow orders. In one bad ending, she is crowned Overlord after defeating Laharl's group, but since she had no independent thoughts of her own, her reign as a Puppet Overlord is cut short. In another bad ending, she gets sucked into a Netherworld-destroying black hole because she wasn't given the order to run away. More comically, in the post-game she runs to a bunch of Sabercats since they wouldn't think twice of ordering her around. It's implied that thinking for herself causes internal conflict and emotional pain.
  • Fallout: New Vegas: The "Dead Money" DLC had Dog/God, a mutant nightkin with Dissociative Identity Disorder. As a result of his time spent in the Master's army, The Dog personality has been conditioned into having a strong need for a master-figure in his life, which Elijah has manipulated to turn him into a willing slave. Dog carries out Elijah's orders regardless of danger to himself, and resents the God personality for working against Elijah, to the point of self-harming to try and drown out God's voice.
  • King's Quest VI: Abdul Alhazred's genie Shamir can only act as his master commands. In fact, this is a racial trait of most genies in the King's Quest Series, who are functionally a mirror of their masters' true personalities.
  • A milder version of this trope exists in Cora Harper in Mass Effect: Andromeda. While Cora is an excellent operative when given a task to accomplish and a goal to achieve, and even takes some initiative in trying to find the missing asari ark, Cora needs some other person to be the Commander whose strategy she can follow. She realizes that she cannot be the Pathfinder because she is unable to make strategic command decisions, preferring to defer responsibility in such matters.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: The Candy People seem to need near constant supervision to get them to do anything outside their daily routines, with only a few members acting as an exception. Played with in that they were designed that way by Princess Bubblegum, whose forays into more intelligent creations that can function on their own usually result in rebellion and attempts at genocidal conquest.
  • Bluey: In "Mums and Dads", Winton is recruited by Indy to play the eponymous game with her. He agrees to take care of the "baby" Polly, while Indy goes to "work"... only to keep pestering her by asking exactly what he's supposed to do in his role.
  • Gravity Falls: In "Tourist Trapped", the lead Gnome Jeff is sent flying by Dipper and Mabel. The rest of the Gnomes are unable to do anything without him, with one of them even saying "Who's giving orders? I need orders!"
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Downplayed in "Spike at Your Service"; When a huge study session means that Twilight doesn't need her assistant Spike's help for a long time, Spike, after going through an Amusingly Short List of things he's always wanted to do, is left unsure of what to do with himself. Later in the same episode, he pledges to assist Applejack after she saves his life. After his attempts to help backfire, Applejack tries to act like she has nothing for him to do. This causes Spike to panic, since not helping Applejack means he's not living up to his pledge.
  • In Recess, Digger Sam was shown to dig out of control without Digger Dave to boss him around.
  • In the final season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the heroes accidentally disconnect one of Horde Prime's clones from the Hive Mind, causing him to absolutely freak out, since he's never not been telepathically connected to Prime and completely at his mercy before. The heroes take him home with them, but all he wants is to return to Prime and continue to serve him, expressing confusion and distress when he tries to function without him. It takes awhile, but he is slowly brought out of his conditioning and eventually realizes how horrible Prime is, becoming a key member of the Rebellion. He still has trouble thinking for himself and desperately wants to be useful; he spends much of his time enthusiastically offering help to his new "brothers" in any way he can, and happily complying with any orders they give him.
  • The Simpsons: Mr. Burns' faithful assistant Smithers is this, as his servitude to Burns is almost a psychological need. In "Homer the Smithers," when Burns tells Smithers to take a much-needed vacation, he begs to stay, claiming that without Burns, he'll "wither and die." Even while Smithers is on vacation, he repeatedly calls Burns asking if he has any mail that needs opening.
  • Sonic Underground: Dingo is of the Dumb Muscle variety, usually being too stupid and lacking in initiative to be an active threat on his own without Sleet to give him orders.
  • Spliced: In "Walkie-Talkie Spiney-Suckie", Peri and Entree find a pair of walkie-talkies, using them to talk to each other and cause mischief. Then Entree starts annoying Peri with questions of what he should or shouldn't do, causing Peri to throw away his walkie-talkie and Entree begging someone to tell him what to do. That someone becomes Mister Smarty Smarts, who manipulates Entree into using a machine disguised as a baby to steal the spines of everyone on the island and dump them into the volcano. Luckily Peri retrieves his walkie-talkie and tells Entree to think for himself before dumping them in.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: The Mewmans in general are like this; Episodes like "Divide" and "Down By the River" show that they are incapable of thinking for themselves (or even taking care of themselves), requiring a member of the royal Butterfly family providing them with near-constant guidance.
  • Steven Universe: Future: After all Homeworld Gems are free to do whatever they please, Holly Blue Agate is still trying to order around the former Amethyst guards that worked under her with no success, lamenting how she would do anything to receive an order from the Diamonds.
  • Transformers: Generation 1:
    • The Combaticon combiner Bruticus is a destructive force to be reckoned with. However, without someone to give him orders, he's liable to simply stand around on the battlefield, looking confused.
    • The young Micromaster Surge is extremely eager to follow the examples of veteran Autobots (like his partner, Retro). This often leaves him too reliant on orders and advice to function effectively.
  • Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2015): In "As the Kospego Commands!", the Decepticon Thunderhoof is mistaken for a mythical creature by a group of gullible humans, and takes advantage by ordering them to gather parts for a makeshift Space Bridge. Bumblebee and Sideswipe manage to convince the humans to abandon Thunderhoof by pretending to be mythical creatures themselves. At the end of the episode, those same humans are shown wandering around the forest, dressed like Bumblebee and Sideswipe, and calling out for more commands.